John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster, remained deeply involved with the development of the game that bears his name from its inception in 1988 through this upcoming title, sharing many conversations with Oldenburg about the game’s direction and other details. Madden’s passing in December of 2021 gives Madden NFL 23 an additional air of importance to those creating it.
Madden’s face was regularly on the cover of the game until Madden 2000, after which the company began picking an NFL player to feature up front. For Madden NFL 23, Madden’s likeness returns. The game will also include a “Madden Legacy” feature, which will allow players to use past All-Madden teams in the original Oakland Coliseum.
This is not just another Madden release — it’s intended as a way to honor the man who fostered within millions a love for the sport.
Based on my experience, EA Sports is on its way toward accomplishing that goal.
The development team heard a number of complaints about issues in Madden NFL 22, from overpowered quarterback scrambling ability to zone coverage deficiencies that didn’t match what can be seen on NFL fields every Sunday. In response, they added elements to properly execute coverage in Madden NFL 23 according to established real-world rules. They also tuned down the special abilities of players, to make their immediate scramble attempts less effective, and they upgraded pass-rushing to shorten the time available to release a pass. As real-life edge rushers and cornerbacks increase in importance in the NFL, so will their virtual counterparts, and they’ll play the ball more accurately.
“That’s huge,” McHardy said, “because when you think about how people played the game last year and before, it was try to get to the quarterback, and when the ball went up in the air, you’re switching and trying to look for the interception, which is not really what should be happening when you think about it.”
The goal of all of this is simple: adjust and improve the game to make it play closer to real-world football — and give players the control they desire to decide the outcome on the virtual field.
“To be able to make that change, to give defenses the ability to find different ways to get off the field, that was one of the goals when we talked about agency and control …” McHardy said. “It really changes the way that you’re thinking about approaching defense, which also reflects in play-calling and a lot of other things and brings a lot more of the strategy and chess match into the game.”
The improvements in gameplay around off-field action are trending in the right direction, too. EA Sports is including additional scouting upgrades in Madden NFL 23. Free agency has been given more depth and variety; amateur general managers must contend with individual A.I. players who now carry motivations that stretch well beyond the dollar. The development team reduced the size of playbooks — some had come to include as many as 440 plays — in order to improve A.I. play-calling and execution.
And with NFL teams bucking precedent and conventional wisdom by swinging blockbuster trades that rock the league’s landscape, Madden is aiming to keep up via another improvement to trade logic.
“Some of these NFL trades that get made, there’s not, like, a chart for anyone to follow to understand what the logic is,” Oldenburg said. “So as real life keeps evolving, franchise mode is going to keep evolving right along with it.”
Evolution seems to be the key word moving forward, especially through Madden NFL 23‘s life cycle. Collaboration could be another, considering EA Sports has opened a hotline for gamers to dispute ratings of their favorite players. EA Sports told me they’ve fielded over 7,000 calls from players disputing ratings, opening another line of dialogue between company and consumer.
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